It's a big old world out there and it's filled with some amazing games from some people who have so much creativity and talent that it is frightening.
For this trip through the portal we take a look at a developer who's games sit on that box most of you will have under your TV, the Xbox 360.
Smudged Cat Games are a critically acclaimed producer of astounding software who Olly023 had the honour of talking too for RGG recently and as a lover of all things platform and cats this seemed a perfect fit... Let's do this!
Puurfect Pixel pleasures!
Ahhh Indie developer I have been expecting you...
If you ask anyone who has a passion for retro games they will almost always agree that the 8 and 16-Bit era were the places to be. There is something so utterly iconic about all of those systems games from the viewpoint used to the almost cartoon looking graphics using larger than life main characters and often bizarre stories.
Fast forward to now and the indie developers out there who grew up on these games have taken this love and nostalgia of what was to add modern gameplay standards and high resolution visuals to evolve that which we all loved so much. One of these Developers goes by the name of Smudged Cat Games and if you look around the Xbox live indie store like we do at RGG you will often see this name.
Today I went to go have a chat with the big cheese in order to get to know what goes on in the mind of such a creative brain and to talk retro love.
The cat in the hat comes over for a chat...
RGG: Hey baby, what’s yo’ name? A/S/L!?
Dave: Dave Johnston/Bloke/A bit near Cambridge (but I’m planning on moving to Scotland soon)
RGG: First off, cats are awesome, amirite? Any studio with cat in their name, especially when producing pixelated sassiness, instantly equals win for me…What’s in the name?
Dave: Cats are awesome but we’re trying to sell our house at the moment and after having spent ages cleaning everything it can be pretty annoying to see a cat yack up a massive hairball on the sofa! [Sadface] But, yeah, I’ve got two moggies, Jasper and Smudge. I named the company after Smudge, Jasper has hated me ever since.
RGG: For the retrobates, when was Smudged Cat formed and what was the key factor to: ‘yeah, wanna be makin’ games’?
Dave: I started work on Shuggy at the start of 2007 and formed the company later on so I could deal with publishers. I’d been writing games before then though but 2007 was probably the official “start” of Smudged Cat Games. I’d always been keen on writing games but the key factor to me really going for it was Microsoft releasing XNA, that made it really easy to make games and it was obvious back then that they were going to open it up so you could release 360 games at some point.
RGG: From Timeslip to Shuggy and beyond, there’s an obvious quirkiness (and cuteness) to your platformers. What games specifically have inspired in the path of the platform? Perhaps the ol’ school mascots?
Dave: I guess I’ve got slightly different areas of inspiration for my games. I love the classic platformers and they’ve undoubtedly shaped the games that I make but Timeslip was originally inspired by an episode of Dr Who. It was one were the Doctor travelled back in time, but only by about 20 seconds or something so he saw the past version of himself. That got me thinking about how that could work as a videogame leading to the idea behind Timeslip. Shuggy was more inspired by the Warioware games. Each level was supposed to be really quick (around 10 or 20 seconds) with different mechanics for each level. The levels got a bit more involved and some of the mechanics were worth having over a few levels so it ended up being the game it is now.
RGG: The indie scene (especially those with retro influence) is the place to be in this day and age – what have your experiences been so far? Positive, negative? Also, being an XBLIG vet, what’s your thoughts on the ‘big boys’ getting in on the action?
Dave: My experience has been great. I love working on my own games and being able to release stuff and get some money for it is awesome. It can be difficult at times though. It’s really hard to get your games to stand out and make enough money to keep going. Everyone involved in the industry is really cool though and I’ve met lots of great people.
The console back CATalogue conversation...
RGG: What’s the biggest draw of having your IP’s consolised, beyond just the benefits? Is there an added feeling of success from the gamer within?
Dave: Well my games have actually been released on console first and then ported over to PC which is a slightly unusual way of doing things. It’s nice to be able to tell a friend that’s got a 360 that they can just go and search for your game on their console and give it a try. I prefer playing games on console so I like seeing them there and that was always my goal but I’ve actually had more financial success releasing my games through Steam on PC.
RGG: Is there a retro developin’ hero that Smudged Cat raises above all else? Everyone needs a bit of hero worship…
Dave: It’s a bit embarrassing really but the person I probably most look up to is Terry Cavanagh. It’s embarrassing because I actually know Terry fairly well. We used to attend the same meet up in Cambridge every Tuesday before he moved down to London. Hopefully he won’t read this! He just has a perfect eye for gameplay and does all his own stuff as well as finding time to help other indie devs.
RGG: Puggsy or Plok?
Dave: Puggsy! I loved that game on the Megadrive. The weird way you had to move your hands up and down, mental!
RGG: Let’s talk about Shuggy. The lil guy’s become your defacto mascot (back to mascots, chyeauh), how’s it feel when a character of your own creation gets so much love and appreciation to the point of complete positive association?
Dave: To be honest I can’t take the credit for the character. I worked with a great artist who came up with the design for him, Chris Hildenbrand. He did a fantastic job and created a character that people really seem to remember. It’s just a shame it wasn’t actually me that created him!
RGG: Fancy giving everyone a rundown of your back catalogue? Let people know what Ed’s really up to in his lab!
Dave: Timeslip is probably the first game I made worthy of mentioning. It was originally for the Playstation One but is now available on PC and XBLIG. I did make a game called Knight Time after that but it disappeared into obscurity and probably isn’t worth mentioning. Prior to releasing Shuggy I released A Bomb’s Way and A Bomb’s Climb on XBLIG. Then there was another platformer on XBLIG called Growing Pains before my most recent game, Gateways.
RGG: Right, let’s delve more into your retro pedigree, yurr? What was your first console and explain your experiences with it, the kids love that!
Dave: My first console was the Sega Master System. I remember many a happy hour playing Alex Kidd on there. I’m struggling to remember playing any other games though. It’s been so long ago!
Time for some meowmory lane questions...
RGG: From a gamer perspective, what is it you have the highest adoration for in the nostalgic wonderland that was retro gaming when, y’know; it wasn’t so retro? EG: the gameplay, graphics, soundzz, whathaveyou..?
Dave: Surely it has be the gameplay. You didn’t really have fantastic graphics back then. It’s funnily looking back at games that had great graphics for their time now. They all seem absolutely dreadful because graphics don’t age well. The games which have good gameplay are still great games. I think the same will happen with the AAA games being released now. No-one will remember them in years to come but the indie title with awesome gameplay will stand the test of time.
RGG: Right, spotlight. What, in your honest opinion is the greatest system of ALL TIME? …all time.
Dave: Great SYSTEM of all time. Hmmmm,... The Philips CDi! No, seriously, I would have to go for the SNES. I actually had a Megadrive around that time and only got a SNES a bit later on but the catalogue of games on there is phenomenal. Mario Kart, Mario World, Metroid, Zelda, Earthbound, Breath of Fire, Donkey Kong Country, Pilotwings! A massive catalogue of classics.
RGG: Having decided your favourite console, what one of your titles would you like to de-make to play on it most? Oh yeah, I went there!
Dave: Oh, that is tricky! For practical reasons I’d probably have to rule Gateways out, you really need an analogue stick for that, although the graphics would fit in quite well. I think Shuggy is probably the game that would work best on SNES, man I’d love to see Shuggy as a SNES cart!
RGG: So, if you had to choose five games on any system from any time period (retro-wise) to play ‘til the end of time, what would they be and why?
Dave: If I was playing them until the end of time I’d probably have to be careful about my selections and avoid ‘story’ games with a beginning, middle and an end like Metroid or Breath of Fire. I think I’ll go Super Mario Kart (SNES), Puyo puyo (Megadrive), Tetris (Gameboy), Street Fighter II (SNES) & Intelligent Qube (PS1)
RGG: Back to the future, is there anything you’re working on right now that you can spill any and/or all the beans on?
Dave: Nothing new and exciting at the moment I’m afraid. My current plans are to release my XBLIG title Growing Pains for PC and port Gateways to whatever next generation consoles will have me. I did release a free online game recently based on the London Underground map called “Dead Underground”.
RGG: Thanks for chattin’, hope you enjoyed answering the questions; anything you fancy adding before heading off into the bitmapped sunset?
Dave: If anyone wants a version of that Dead Underground game based on a map of their Facebook friends I’m doing a thing where I generate those (http://www.smudgedcat.com/mapper/). You can even order a poster of the pretty map I create for you!
RetroGameGeeks Final Thoughts...
So we meet again fellow RGG'ers, yeah that's a word so shhh and let it ride and slide, you know about the east side!
What a cool cat (sorry, I will stop these puns one day, promise) that Dave is and now that you have all gotten to know him and see the quite amazing work his studio produces I think that once again it's clear to see that the glory days are in so many ways still here. Sure they don't come on cartridge in card boxes with awesome instruction manuals but the main and most important component i.e. Gameplay is all there and in the indie scene games of high quality are everywhere right now.
Speaking of quality, check out the innovation of the platform genre in titles such as Gateways which static screenshots really do not do justice to, this is of such genius that if the name on the cover said Myamoto right now 6 million people would be heaping praise all over it's face. But that's the curse of the modern corporate mainstream industry and it's armies of fanboys who chase names, faces and celebrity status then rush off to hop onto the next gaming franchise fad.
The indie scene plays by different set's of rules and at it's core are just cool people making cool games that they themselves want to play, it just so happens that in doing so they happen to create the kinds of experiences that retro lovers crave. So once again the RGG PORTAL delivers on the proof of it's bold statement that Retro and Indie are quite simply the same damn thing, one is old the other is the evolution of said origin.
Our advice to anyone reading this is to immediately rush onto your Xbox and try the addictive Adventures of Shuggy for yourself and tell me this is not so much fun that it should come with a health warning, if Lynx could make this game into a body spray you would be peeling women off you all night long. Once this game releases you from it's hypnotic lure give Gateways a moment of your time and then notice how many hours pass by before you realise this also now has you hooked.
Then once you check the website out you will notice these games are not alone, there's even more to see, even more hours of fun to be had in the worlds created by a man who has a total grasp of what he wants to see done, the execution on show here is at times mind blowing. If you don't allow yourself to experience some of these games shown here I can promise you that you are missing out, don't let the AAA era last, fight the power! Play indie games.